Tag Archives: rant

Work is work and it shouldn’t be expected on the weekends

written on December 27, 2013 and saved for publication until tenure

A month or so ago, the STOC’14 PC chair took an informal poll of when we wanted the PC meeting: Friday & Saturday, Saturday & Sunday, Sunday & Monday. What the hell?  Why not any two day combinations that don’t include a weekend day?  So it doesn’t get in the way of work?  What on Earth do you think a PC meeting is if not work?  So it doesn’t get in the way of teaching?  I am pretty sure all our department heads want us to go to conferences and take part in program committees and will happily accommodate a cancelled class or two or a sub by a graduate student or colleague.

My response to the PC chair was: “I would greatly prefer Fri-Sat or Sun-Mon so it doesn’t take the whole weekend away from me.”  In the background, my partner works in Portland during the week, and so we live apart during the week, and the weekend is the only time we have together.  Also, committing to work a Saturday/Sunday combination means 12 straight full days of work (on top of the cross country flight the program committee means) since taking a weekday off to compensate for the weekend is very difficult to arrange — guilt kicks in and I would inevitably work.  On a very serious note, down time is key to “work life balance” also known as one’s mental health.  We shouldn’t be defaulting to working on the weekend.  Our conferences shouldn’t be on a weekend either.  They should be on weekdays.  Weekends are for rest and weekdays are for working.  Anyone read about the labor movement?  In speaking to friends with kids, particularly dual-career couples, travelling over the weekend is not cool.

You know who doesn’t expect you to work on the weekend?  NSF.  Panels are on WEEKDAYS.  You know who else?  Europeans.  Dagstuhls are run Monday to Friday.  ESA is Monday to Wednesday.  ICALP is Monday to Friday.

So you know what?  If you want to retain more people in our field, and you want to seriously push work-life balance, you shouldn’t plan work events on weekends.  Keep them to weekdays.


Oh, the STOC PC meeting was Saturday/Sunday.  THANKS.

continued January 18, 2014:

Continued annoyance in regards to the STOC PC.  We have been asked, late on a Friday afternoon to pick 2 papers out of a stack of 40 to provide extra reviews.  By Sunday at 3PM.  Seriously?  I know we are all expected to work ALL THE TIME and are supposed to LIKE THAT.  But you know what?  I don’t.  I am tired of this expectation and I would like to protect some time to be free of work commitments.  Choosing papers for STOC is not so important that some task needs to be completed in a 2 day span over a weekend.

continued February 6, 2014:

There has been another emergency “feedback needed within 48 hours” emailed out on a Friday evening.  This is timely.

The is-my-comment-appropriate? test

Take your comment and change any gendered words from male to female and ask yourself “Would I say this to or about a man in the same situation?”

For example:

  • “This office is a lot prettier than when I was here” [to a male graduate student, while thumbing the female grad student hard at work] doesn’t change, and your answer would likely be no.
  • “Little girl, you will have to work a lot harder to keep up with the men!” [to a student in the first tutorial of first year physics] becomes “Little boy, you will have to work a lot harder to keep up with the women!”, and your answer would likely be no.
  • “Be careful, you wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a secretary.” [to a female postdoc as she consults a dictionary to settle a disagreement] doesn’t change and your answer would likely be no.
  • “You should be at home, raising children. That is what women are good at.” [to a female professor in her own office] becomes “You should be at home, raising children. That is what men are good at.”, and your answer would likely be no.


I missed the FOCS business meeting for no good reason.  But I heard after that there was some discussion along the lines of how many papers FOCS should accept with people vying for fewer papers and a more prestigious conference.  Apparently there were complaints from the old guys that most of the conference was under 35. (Remember, this is day-after gossip laced with truthiness – I wasn’t there.)

Anyhow, my real beef is with the number of conferences in our field.  Some are listed in the title of the post.  And these are only the conferences in the algorithms subdirectory of theory.  Under game theory you can go the FOCS/STOC/EC/ISIT/… route, under crypto, FOCS/STOC/CRYPTO/EUROCRYPT/… etc.  SO MANY CONFERENCES.

For blanket TCS conferences though, we look to FOCS/STOC in the US (and ICALP in Europe, which I have little experience with, so I will keep to the North American scene here).  But STOCS/FOCS are only blanket in terms of topics, not attendance.  A Joint Math Meeting this is not.  While I had a great time with my friends and colleagues who were there, it was the absences that were notable.  Even colleagues from schools in California weren’t there, despite the proximity. Whole institutions left unrepresented.  So even if I do make it to one of STOC/FOCS each year, what about those colleagues who choose to go to the other one.  Or opt out entirely, sticking to their SODAs and SoCGs.  When will I get to see them?

Then there are the more practical considerations.  So much travel!  As a grad student it was awesome.  Free trip.  Not a care as to where the money came from.  Time away from school.  But now.  So much travel!  Who will teach my classes?  Who will pay for this?  How will I recoup a lost weekend?  (Answer: no one; me; with grumpiness.)  Add the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of resubmitted conference papers.  More work for the many PCs that are formed.  And yes, there are practical considerations.  What model do we use?  What does the committee look like?  This has been discussed before.  I’m sure we can figure something out, even if we can’t agree on something.

So why can’t TCS have a SIGGRAPH or CHI or AAAI?  Why can’t we meet all in one place once a year?